SOM Proposes to Transform the Built Environment into a “Forest” of Absorbing Carbon at COP26

Imagine if the built environment was part of the solution to climate change, and not a problem. Imagine buildings acting like trees, capturing carbon, purifying air and regenerating the natural environment. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), has responded to these questions by proposing Urban Sequoia, an architectural design concept that is inspired by the environment at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, Glasgow – COP26. The design includes “forests” of buildings that extract carbon and create biomaterials, which help to create an urban environment that is more resilient and ecological.

This project is a response to the need to transform the sector of building, which accounts for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions. Its wide-ranging impact could create a circular economy that absorbs carbon, which goes beyond the notion of being carbon neutral. This will transform architecture into a solution.

Courtesy of SOM | Miysis

Courtesy of SOM | Miysis

Our Urban Sequoia proposal – and eventually entire ‘forests’ of Sequoias – makes buildings and cities part of the solution. They are designed to sequester carbon and change the course of climate changes. Our idea was designed to be adaptable and can be used in any city around the globe. It has the potential to have a positive impact on any scale of buildings. Chris Cooper and Kent Jackson of SOM Partners

This project was developed using sustainable design thinking, innovation and state-of the-art technologies. The building design is optimized through the use of nature-based solutions and incorporating biomaterials and carbon-capturing technology. To reduce carbon emissions by 50%, the buildings will be constructed with materials such as bio-bricks, hempcrete and timber.

Courtesy of SOM

This strategy can be applied to projects at different scales. SOM designed a high rise for cities that can capture as much as 1,000 tons of carbon each year. That’s equivalent to 48.500 trees. The prototype will absorb 400% more carbon after 60 years than it would have produced during construction. The facades can also be used to produce biofuel from integrated biomass and alga. This will allow for heating and car engines.

Courtesy of SOM

The proposal by the architecture firm suggests that the carbon and biomass captured can be used to make biomaterials for roads and pavements. The team explained that by converting urban hardscapes to gardens, creating intense carbon-absorbing landscapes and retrofitting streets using additional carbon-capturing technology, old grey infrastructure can store up to 120 tonnes of carbon per square mile. These strategies can be replicated in parks and greenspaces to save as much as 300 tons of carbon per square kilometer annually.

Courtesy of SOM